July 4, 2019
Rafael Nadal defeated the fiery Nick Kyrgios in one of the most gripping and bad-tempered matches since the playing days of John McEnroe.
Meanwhile Andy Murray made his much-anticipated return to Wimbledon action after an absence of some 723 days. He was quite brilliant in the men’s doubles.
Andy admitted: ‘I was a bit nervous at the start but it got better as things went on, we started reading each other’s game better, and it just came naturally. It was great to get the win and a nice atmosphere.’
Murray seemed to love every moment of turning around an absorbing match on Court Number One, while Nadal and Kyrgios slugged it out on Centre.
For Murray there was no question of losing alongside his new partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert, despite dropping the first set.
To win they needed to overcome Ugo Humbert and Marius Copil. It took a little time for the chemistry to develop. When it did the result was breathtaking.
But Nadal and Kyrgios were locked in an even more intense psychological thriller. One with no obvious denouement.
For sheer dramatic edge this Nadal-Kyrgios contest will go down as one of the more memorable in Wimbledon first-week history.
Kyrgios complained almost from the start about the time Nadal was taking between points.
At 2-5 down but 40-0 up he tricked the Spaniard with an underarm serve. Nadal had to smile.
But Rafa soon played another psychological game of his own. He went for a long toilet break at the end of that opening set – much to the fury of his opponent.
Somehow, between claiming Nadal was a law unto himself and calling the umpire a disgrace, Kyrgios started to play some mind-blowing tennis.
Another underarm special sent the Australian into a commanding second-set lead and he closed out.
Twice in the middle of the match Kyrgios hit the ball straight at Nadal on purpose. The second time Nadal appeared to want to stare him down.
Kyrgios admitted later he had been aiming for Rafa’s chest and refused to apologise.
Rafa ultimately let his racquet do the talking as he always does. He edged the third in a tie-break after demanding even more support from a mesmerised Centre Court.
And Nadal eventually found a way to end it 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3) . A careless smash into the net at the start of the breaker and a couple of wayward forehands proved fatal for the ill-dsiciplined Kyrgios.
But Rafa’s mind and body had been sorely tested. He will hope for an easier ride against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga next time out.
With the Court One roof closed for bad light, Murray and Herbert also moved in for the kill. Sometimes you would have thought they had been playing together all their lives. The quality and near telepathy was almost ridiculous.
Inevitably they prevailed 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-0 with a smiling Murray hitting the angled winner.
Earlier the legendary Roger Federer came through in straight sets to book a showdown with the unpredictable Frenchman, Lucas Pouille. But not before Derby’s Jay Clarke enjoyed the afternoon of his life.
The middle set, often led by Clarke to the visible joy of his family, was the one the Brit will particularly treasure.
And Federer generously paid tribute to his opponent and the support he received from Wimbledon’s enthusiastic spectators.
Roger said: ‘I thought the crowds were great. They were really helping Jay get into the match…Thankfully I played a really good breaker and he gave me a couple of unforced errors.’
There were fireworks in the women’s tournament too. Defending champion Angelique Kerber lost 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 to a 5ft 2ins American called Lauren Davis. Not bad for a “lucky loser.”
Surprisingly Jo Konta suddenly had one less title rival left in the tournament. Big names have been knocked out daily in this first crazy week of women’s singles.
Serena Williams was in danger of joining Kerber when she lost her first set to Kaja Juvan, an 18-year-old qualifier from Slovenia.
But Andy Murray’s mixed doubles partner recovered to win through 2-6, 6-2, 6-4 in front of her friend Meghan, Duchess of Sussex.
Meanwhile British hope Konta defeated Katerina Siniakova 6-3, 6-4. She looked in complete control as she built momentum for bigger challenges.
Konta’s compatriot Harriet Dart will already be preparing mentally for the biggest challenge of her life after seeing off Beatriz Haddad Maia 7-6 (7-4), 3-6, 6-1.
‘I’m just so happy to win and so relieved at the same time,’ she said.
The victorious Dart now faces the best female tennis player in the world right now, Ashleigh Barty.
But Konta must be starting to look around her and wonder how many other women have a genuine chance of lifting the title. Only a handful.
It was a memorable day for British tennis all round. Dan Evans was understandably emotional after taking out Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4). His late wobble only added to the intensity of his own joy and relief.
A tearful Evans said: ‘I was pretty nervous trying to get over the line. It probably showed. It means so much though, especially here at Wimbledon.’
Just playing again at Wimbledon meant so much to Andy Murray too. But he still has the same old competitive spirit.
So whatever he says about the lesser importance of winning or losing these days, rest assured that victory with Herbert made his comeback so much sweeter.